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Details have emerged about a secret meeting NSW coach Brad Fittler had with referees' boss Jared Maxwell before this year's State of Origin series got underway.
Fittler - who has made a raft of changes for Game II in Perth on Sunday - was less than impressed by a number of refereeing decisions in the Blues' 16-10 loss to Queensland in the series opener in Sydney.
However, his grievances apparently started before the series even got underway, with The Sydney Morning Herald reporting that Fittler met with Maxwell in the lead-up to the series, armed with a video of illegal plays he claims the Maroons employed in last year's series.
Among Fittler's chief concerns were offside plays from Maroons playmaker Cameron Munster, illegal kick pressure on Blues halfback Nathan Cleary and questionable passes out of dummy half from QLD rake Harry Grant.
It's understood Fittler took the unusual approach of meeting with the referees' boss before the series, fearful that the officials may determine the nature of this year's series.
The Blues coach doubled down after his side's Game I defeat by again seeking a 'please explain' from Maxwell about the performance of referee Ashley Klein.
Fittler cited a questionable cut-out pass from Kalyn Ponga that led to Dane Gagai's try and Maroons' skipper Daly Cherry-Evans' second half try that came after NSW prop Junior Paulo appeared to be held back in the preceding scrum.
The Blues were also unhappy with the Maroons' tactic of slowing down the Blues at the ruck and accused Klein of failing to crack down on it during Game I.
“(Queensland) got in tight and they held on,” Fittler said earlier this month.
“They (officials) didn’t want to give penalties away, I think we got a penalty with 17 minutes to go. “They did a great job, they worked hard there and they definitely won the ruck.”
Fittler's criticism was also shared by NSW assistant Greg Alexander, who said the Maroons pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable and the Blues failed to adapt.
“We have to pay more focus to the ruck and realise it is not a club game,” Alexander said on NRL360.
“It is Origin and penalties like to be at a minimum. You have to push the boundary. You don’t want to play too nice. I thought we were just too nice about things.
“It seemed like we didn’t want to offend anyone. We jumped off nice and clean and we did lose the ruck and we learnt a lesson from that. I’m sure we will be better in that area.”
NSW make mass changes for Game II
Fittler has rung the changes for Game II as the Blues look to keep the series alive in Perth, with Damien Cook's demotion to the bench and Api Koroisau's recall to the side, perhaps the most eye-catching move from NSW.
It marks the first time Cook has not started in the No.9 in Fittler's NSW coaching tenure, which dates back to 2018.
Fittler said Koroisau's inclusion didn't mean the coaching staff had lost faith in the Rabbitohs' Cook, who will come off the bench following a lukewarm stretch of form.
"That'll be a tactical change, going in with two hookers," Fittler said.
"Between (Cook) and (South Sydney teammate) Cam Murray, we've got a lot of confidence in them. They've been part of this group for a while now."
Ryan Matterson, Kotoni Staggs, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Tariq Sims have all been dropped from the 17 that lost 16-10 to Queensland in game one, with Jack Wighton (Covid-19) the only forced change.
Jacob Saifiti and Tyson Frizell are also out of the extended squad for Origin II.
Fittler said the only option after a defeat was to change tactics, especially when the three-match series is on the line.
"When you get beaten, you need to reassess," he said.
"We have no safety net at the moment.
"We went into the first game thinking a certain way about how the game would go and what we could do but it didn't happen."
Canterbury five-eighth Matt Burton and Cronulla enforcer Siosifa Talakai will make their Origin debuts at centre and from the bench, respectively.
Stephen Crichton will join former Penrith teammate Burton in the centres for his second Origin appearance.
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